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Retired U of A professor among hundreds arrested in international child porn investigation

An international child pornography investigation headed by the Toronto Police and focusing on an Etobicoke-based distributor has led to the arrest of 341 people and the rescue of at least 386 children.

Among those arrested: internationally-recognized former University of Alberta professor, 66-year-old Andrew Liu.

“[Liu] was arrested at his home in downtown Edmonton on October 23,” said EPS Sgt. Mike Lokken.  “As a result of a search warrant, we’ve identified a number of child pornography media and he’s been charged [with possession of child pornography] accordingly.”

A U of A spokesperson says Andrew Liu – who goes by Andy – is retired. He did have a part time teaching contract after his retirement, but was not teaching any classes this semester, according to the spokesperson.

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He studied mathematics at McGill University before coming to Edmonton to complete grad studies in Math, and receive a diploma in Education.

He joined the U of A as a faculty member in 1980.  According to an article posted by the University of Alberta Alumni Association,  Liu founded a mathematics club for interested elementary and junior high school students.

“Liu clearly enjoys working with young people,” said the article, which also quoted him as saying that mathematics is a “young person’s game.”

Based on reviews on RateMyProfessors.com, Liu was fairly well liked by his students.

Two men from Calgary were also charged in the international investigation. Jonathon Robert Gerbrandt, 34, and Kevin Michael Owad, 39 were charged with possession of child pornography and accessing child pornography; Owad was also charged with making available child pornography.

The Toronto Police’s multi-year investigation, dubbed Project Spade, has spanned continents and included close cooperation with the United States Postal Service.

Police say 50 of those arrested are from Ontario and 58 are from other parts of Canada, which included school teachers, doctors and actors.

“Forty school teachers, nine doctors and nurses, 32 people who volunteered with children, six law enforcement personnel, nine pastors or priests and three foster parents,” said Inspector Joanna Beaven-Desjardins, commander of the Toronto police’s sex crimes unit.

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It has its roots in a 2011 bust in the Toronto area and has been called unprecedented for its global scope and sheer number of people implicated.

The investigation was focused on Azov Films. The Toronto company that sells DVDs and what it called “naturist” films – which the company’s website argues is perfectly legal.

Authorities say the company had revenues of over $4 million.

The Toronto man at the heart of the investigation was allegedly running a company since 2005.

Brian Way, 42, of Toronto faces 24 charges including possession of child pornography, selling and distributing child pornography and possession of proceeds of crime.

Police allege the man instructed people around the world to create the videos of children ranging from five to 12 years of age, and then distributed the videos to international customers.

The U.S. Postal Service’s side of the investigation has led to a string of arrests south of the border – almost all of men in positions of authority or who work with children.

A website that relies solely on public tips played an important role in the investigation.

“Cybertip.ca…received numerous tips regarding Mr. Way’s website and forwarded them to us, assisting us in detecting his website,” said Beaven-Desjardins.

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The Canadian tip line is called Cybertip.ca and has been operating since Sept. 26, 2002. It’s operated by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, and was adopted under the federal government’s National Strategy for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation on the Internet in May 2004.

The site processes public tips—submitted online or by phone at 1-866-658-9022 —about material people believe is illegal or involves the potential online sexual exploitation of children.

Read More: What is Cybertip.ca?

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